WoF reforms: No quick fix to keep safe

14 comments
The Government wants change in our WoF system, saying it may not ensure vehicle safety at all. Photo / Mark McKeown
The Government wants change in our WoF system, saying it may not ensure vehicle safety at all. Photo / Mark McKeown

Changes to WoF system draw mixed response.

Reaction from the public to the Government's review of the vehicle licensing regime has been mixed since Driven exclusively revealed that the warrant of fitness system was likely to change.

We said the Government could scrap the need for a WoF on new cars. Their first check would come two years after being sold, followed by inspections at four and six years.

Thereafter, they would need a yearly WoF. The present six-monthly WoF on cars over six years old could be moved out to 12 months.

The possible changes surfaced after a "conversation paper", signed by Ministry of Transport chief executive Martin Mathews and NZ Transport Agency acting chief executive Stephen Town, was passed to Driven.

They are looking at ways to lower the annual compliance costs of WoF and vehicle registrations, and the certificate of fitness and transport services licensing systems.

The MoT and NZTA, who are meeting with transport groups to thrash out potential changes, will prepare a report for the Cabinet which will put together a public discussion paper to be released in September.

Both Government bodies criticised Driven for "implying that Government proposals have already been developed for changes to the warrant of fitness system as part of the Vehicle Licensing Reform project".

Driven did no such thing. We quoted the discussion paper itself: "The challenge that the Government has set is to explore opportunities to lower compliance costs while achieving similar or improved safety and environmental outcomes," it said.

"In the coming weeks and months, we need to ask some hard questions about the three systems. Why were they introduced? Are they still relevant? If so, are there better ways to achieve the desired outcomes?"

"Analysis of the vehicle roadworthiness inspection system suggests it may not be delivering the best balance between compliance costs and safety benefits.

"Vehicle owners rely too much on having a WoF or CoF (Certificate of Fitness) instead of taking responsibility for keeping their vehicles in a roadworthy state."

But opponents say changes to the WoF system would put people out of work, affecting Vehicle Inspection NZ, Vehicle Testing NZ stations and small garages.

Following is what some Driven readers have to say, months out from the Cabinet's public discussion paper:

Harry
I own two private testing stations and employ 15 fulltime staff. To change the WoF frequency to 12 months would be detrimental to my business. I would have to halve my staff and increase the Testing stations may lose out but supporters say checks are unnecessary as faulty cars cause few crashes.

If you could only see the condition of the cars that are rejected after six months you would shudder. Owners do not maintain their vehicle unless made to. I've been in the WoF inspection business since 1976 and know it's not a good idea to change frequency.

Alex
Just because a car has been passed fit by the manufacturer doesn't mean it would pass a WoF. My wife bought a car second-hand that had been serviced and given five WoFs by the one garage since new. I took it to VTNZ who found it to have been factory fitted with headlights for a left-hand-drive car. I suspect they never checked the lights (or much else) "because it was new". The WoF concept is a significant safety issue. For my part a two-yearly WoF is okay, but a truly independent test should be done before allowing any vehicle on our roads.

Richard
For new and near-new vehicles, a longer period between checks would be good. The WoF check is far better than drivers relying on their own judgment about their car's mechanical condition. That's a scary prospect. The registration has long been exploited as a means of gouging the public's purse. Governments have unilaterally loaded ACC taxation on to it. If that stays, a graduated scale is needed, like insurance premiums that are matched to the driver's risk.

John
With the appalling number of cars I see with faulty headlights, I'm concerned about comments that longer periods of WoF inspections would be fine from a safety point of view. One must wonder that if the headlights are faulty, what other problems need attention.

Robin
How stupid can some people get? The WoF is not about employment, it's about whether or not a car is roadworthy. As vehicle technology has increased over the years, so has the reliability of new, and near-new, cars. The WoF was not introduced as a means of giving people employment. If there are garages who rely on WoFs to survive, more fool them for not diversifying within their trade. They deserve to go under.

David
New cars are not paragons of virtue. Many items critical to road safety can be compromised from the moment a car goes on the road. Many owners have no technical knowledge. That's the purpose of the WoF. Why do you think air transport is so safe? Regular checks and maintenance. This is a disaster waiting to happen.

Phil
There are so many variables that impact on how much a car has changed since the last inspection. I'm in favour of a two-year interval from new until four years, but there should be a mileage component as some commercials do 70,000km a year. Also we don't get particularly good compliance within the current regime where "it's the owner's responsibility to maintain the vehicle to WoF standards at all times".

Des
The move to a two-year warrant in the first six years and yearly for older vehicles is logical. Cars are better built now with longer service intervals. The warrant industry's complaint about lost revenue is irrelevant. Shorter queues at VTNZ would be great. WoF changes should be coupled with bigger spot fines for non-compliant vehicles.

Dave
As an owner of two older vehicles I do my own basic maintenance. The WoF process has found a number of issues I didn't pick up, ranging from a broken engine mount to radial cracking on the inside of the the tyres and brake pads that were wearing. I think the regular compulsory system of largely independent checking is pretty good. A lot of safety-related wear can occur in a year, so stick with the current system.

Sandy
As the former officer in charge of a police serious crash unit, I can say that in 21 years of investigating fatal crashes I uncovered only a handful of times where the state of the vehicle contributed to the crash. These were caused by ignorant attitudes and lack of maintenance where the owners had no intention of complying with WoF requirements. The rules for the masses are governed by the failings of non-compliant idiots. Deal with them.

Bob
Most new cars are sold with multi-year service plans. If these include safety items, the periodic WoF check is redundant. For older cars, service providers (garages and so on) should [promote] competitive service plans that ensure car owners visit regularly and have a safety check. There are better ways to tackle safety inspections than just considering the scope of the current WoF. We must think outside the square.

Graeme
Whatever the time frame there will still be heaps of cars with no WoFs, no registrations and no insurance. Make the WoF last as long as you like - but when a car is caught without one it's taken off the road on the spot. Same with no registration and no insurance. It would make our roads safer.

Roger
Six-monthly vehicle inspection is unnecessary. Many "civilised" jurisdictions don't require it at all, including most of Canada and the US. Those that do have frequencies from one to three years, typically two, including Germany with its fast autobahns. Six-monthly WoF testing is itself a danger, discouraging people from taking responsibility for maintenance. Faulty vehicles are a contributing factor (not the cause) in only 2-3 per cent of injury crashes and 6-7 per cent of fatal crashes (NZTA). If we're serious about road safety, we will concentrate on improving the standard of our drivers and roads.

Jim
New cars need a WoF check at three months to get rid of factory faults, then maybe a two-year WoF. Or do away with WoF altogether and make rego and third-party insurance compulsory. Also, ban modified cars.

Charlie
I'm a WoF inspector and I consider six-month warrants for modern cars a sick joke from the 1950's. I suggest a distance-based CoF requirement. Time should not be the frequency of inspection, distance should be.

- NZ Herald

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